Two decades ago, President George W. Bush established the White House Faith-Based and Community Initiative to encourage and coordinate community activities in providing social services. This initiative was renewed by Presidents Obama and Biden. But these renewals exclude a focus of faith-based and community groups on problems like substance abuse and addiction. Does the rise of medication-assisted treatment play a role in this exclusion?

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Two decades ago, President George W. Bush established the White House Faith-Based and Community Initiative to encourage and coordinate community activities in providing social services. Collectively, the activities of faith-based and community organizations were referred to as FBCO. 

This activity was restored and renewed by President Obama on February 5, 2009. On February 14, 2021, President Biden signed an executive order reestablishing the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. 

In the latest iteration of this Partnership, religious and community groups are called upon to address these issues:

  • Addressing the COVID pandemic
  • Boosting economic recovery
  • Combating systemic racism
  • Increasing opportunities in historically disadvantaged communities by supporting immigrants; welcoming refugees; addressing childhood hunger; helping minority-owned and rural small businesses
  • Strengthening a pluralism of religion 
  • Advancing humanitarian efforts, for example, promoting child and maternal health or defusing conflicts

Nowhere are FBCO encouraged to contribute to a resolution of the problems of drug abuse and addiction. But ever since there was a church basement with bad coffee, religious groups have been involved in helping the addicted return to ethical, sober lives. 

The Bush White House Initiative 

Step back in time to 2001 and the Bush White House. There was a significantly greater emphasis on addressing the drug problem and its impacts. The following excerpts are from “The Quiet Revolution: The President’s Faith-Based and Community Initiative.”

The Access to Recovery (ATR) program, announced in the 2003 President’s State of the Union address, was launched to help expand the capacity of grassroots addiction recovery organizations…Through competitive grants awarded primarily at the State level, ATR established grantee-operated, voucher programs to help Americans recover from substance abuse and addiction.

The process of recovery is personal and can take many pathways: physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. With a voucher, people in need of addiction treatment and support can choose the programs and providers that will best meet their individual needs. Increased choice protects individuals and encourages quality.

An excerpt from President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union Address reveals a focus specifically on the efforts of Faith-Based Organizations to bring individuals back from addiction:

“Another cause of hopelessness is addiction to drugs. Addiction crowds out friendship, ambition, moral conviction and reduces all the richness of life to a single destructive desire. As a government, we are fighting illegal drugs by cutting off supplies and reducing demand through anti-drug education programs. Yet for those already addicted, the fight against drugs is a fight for their own lives.

“Too many Americans in search of treatment cannot get it. So tonight I propose a new $600 million program to help an additional 300,000 Americans receive treatment over the next three years.

“Our nation is blessed with recovery programs that do amazing work. One of them is found at the Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge, La. A man in the program said, ‘God does miracles in people’s lives, and you never think it could be you.’ Tonight, let us bring to all Americans who struggle with drug addiction this message of hope: The miracle of recovery is possible, and it could be you.”

The Bush White House encouraged FBCO to get involved in the following social issues and more:

  • Veteran’s Needs
  • Hunger
  • Economic Development
  • Crime
  • Criminal Recidivism
  • Addiction
  • At-Risk Youth
  • Homelessness
  • Natural Disaster
  • Small Business Needs
  • Underperforming Schools

A Greater Need Than Ever Before

If ever there was a need for faith-based and community organizations to get involved in addressing the needs of the addicted, it is now. Due to the efforts of the pharmaceutical industry, America has been swept with a tidal wave of opioid addiction. That was followed by a second wave of synthetic opioids—the entire family of fentanyl products—that came across our borders from China and Mexico. 

In the twelve-month period ending April 2021, America has reached a new and utterly tragic record number of overdose deaths. The CDC estimates that the final figure for that twelve months will exceed 100,000 lost lives when all toxicology reports are finally tabulated. 

There has truly never been a greater need for the involvement of every religious and community organization in addressing these issues. One hundred thousand lives lost means children are losing parents, parents are losing children, communities are losing citizens from every stratum of society. 

With medication-assisted treatment becoming considered the “gold standard” of addiction treatment, is this why faith-based and community organizations are no longer encouraged to participate in this kind of initiative? 

Religions and communities have for so long been involved in reaching out to help their members, certainly as long as there has been poverty, addiction and illness. Every faith-based and community organization can offer valuable service by helping to address these ills. They may choose to work independently or work hand in hand with federal agencies as proposed by President George W. Bush. The goal is simple, and any organizations that are able and willing should be encouraged to help bring our neighbors and citizens back to healthy, sober lives. 

Read more:

The excerpts above and the entire outline of activities that FBCO were invited to address by the Bush White House can be viewed here. 

The Faith-Based and Community Initiative was initially established by President George W. Bush on January 29, 2001, just a few weeks after he took office. 

President Biden’s 2021 Executive Order can be viewed here.